What Were They Thinking? 10 Grocery Product Ideas That Flopped

While it’s true that companies must constantly innovate in order to stay viable and maintain market share, it’s also true that not every idea that comes out of corporate research and development departments will be a huge success.

Of course, the pressure to stay on top is huge, and coming up with innovative ideas that people will embrace isn’t easy, as illustrated by the countless number of market miscalculations and abject product failures developed by some of the biggest and most respected brands in the world.

How many of these misguided products — most with mercifully short shelf-lives — do you remember?

Gerber Singles


Launch Date:
1974
The Not-So-Bright Idea: Super-sized baby food portions for adults.

The Lesson Learned: I can almost forgive the person who came up with this idea. I said “almost.” After all, who doesn’t sneak a taste or six of baby-jar applesauce, custard, or mashed bananas when they spoon-feed their kids? I know I did. Even so, that doesn’t mean us grown-ups want to eat adult-sized portions of pureed Mediterranean Vegetables or pulverized beef Burgundy.

Jimmy Dean Chocolate Chip Pancake-Wrapped Sausage on a Stick

Launch Date: 2006
The Not-So-Bright Idea: For those who like their breakfast on the run, microwaveable chocolate chip pancakes and sausage. On a stick.

The Lesson Learned: Apparently, somebody in the Jimmy Dean marketing department read one too many Popular Mechanics articles. This embarrassing failure just goes to show that even though we have the technology to marry chocolate chip pancakes with sausage and put it on a stick, it doesn’t mean the resulting product will sell like, well, if you’ll pardon the expression … hotcakes.

Heinz Easy-Squirt Ketchup

Launch Date: 2000
The Not-So-Bright Idea: Colored ketchup for kids.

The Lesson Learned: Heinz decided to cater to kids who love to play with food by offering their popular ketchup brand in multiple hues including green, purple, and blue. The gambit was wildly successful the first couple years. At the end of the day, however, most people still like to see red ketchup on their hot dogs, so the fad eventually died out. The last bottles of off-color ketchup were pulled from store shelves in 2006.

Ore-Ida Funky Fries

Launch Date: 2002
The Not-So-Bright Idea: French fries for kids with wacky flavors and colors.

The Lesson Learned: Hoping to capitalize on the initial colored-ketchup craze, Ore-Ida invented French fries with a twist: Now kids could really gross out their parents by dipping cinnamon-, chocolate- and sour cream-flavored or blue-colored spuds into their purple ketchup! Unfortunately for Ore-Ida, it’s Mom and Dad who do the grocery shopping — and they tend to prefer their fries golden brown and seasoned with salt. So it’s no wonder that Funky Fries were discontinued after only one year.

Frito Lay’s WOW Potato Chips

Launch Date: 1998
The Not-So-Bright Idea: Offer low-fat low-calorie potato chips to health-conscious consumers.

The Lesson Learned: The idea of a healthy fat-free potato chips seemed like a no-brainer at the time. In fact, Frito-Lay’s Wow chips ended 1998 as the year’s top-selling new product in the US. However, reports quickly spread of people getting stomach cramps and diarrhea from the olestra-laden chips — so many that the FDA eventually required a warning label on every bag of Wow chips. Talk about a sales killer.

New Coke

Launch Date: 1985
The Not-So-Bright Idea: Increase sales by changing the famous Coca-Cola formula to a sweeter version of the original.

The Lesson Learned: After nearly 100 years of market domination, Coca-Cola executives decided to switch over to a new formula after blind cola taste tests conducted in the 70s and 80s suggested that more people preferred the taste of Pepsi to Coke. Bad move. The resulting switchover to the new formula was an immediate flop — despite Coca-Cola’s own research that showed New Coke was preferred over Pepsi and classic Coke. Within three months, Coke had announced the return of Coke Classic.

Pepsi A.M.

Launch Date: 1989
The Not-So-Bright Idea: A super-caffeinated breakfast cola.

The Lesson Learned: Believe it or not, Coke doesn’t have a monopoly on dumb cola ideas. Why would anyone bother drinking a cup of coffee, Pepsi executives asked, if they could start their day with a nice, refreshing can of carbonated cola that has 25 percent more caffeine? Well, because carbonated colas don’t go well with oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, eggs or cereal. That’s why.

Colgate Kitchen Entrees

Launch Date: 1982
The Not-So-Bright Idea: Capitalize on the popular Colgate brand to sell a new line of frozen dinners.

The Lesson Learned: When they work, brand extensions can be highly successful. For example, Arm & Hammer was able to successfully leverage its baking soda brand into oral and laundry care products. Sometimes, though, brand extension attempts can go horribly wrong — like Colgate’s ill-advised brief foray into frozen food. I know. After all, who wants to associate spearmint toothpaste with their Swedish meatballs?

Coors Rocky Mountain Bottled Spring Water

Launch Date: 1990
The Not-So-Bright Idea: Provide Coors with an opening into the bottled water market by offering Rocky Mountain spring water.

The Lesson Learned: Another example of brand extension gone awry was when Coors tried to cash in on the bottled water boom. On first blush, the decision to sell water from refreshing Rocky Mountain springs seemed like a logical plan with the potential for big profits, but it was not to be. Legend has it that the Coors label on the bottle only managed to confuse the public. Whatever the reason, sales languished and Coors’ bottled water experiment ended quickly.

Maxwell House Ready-to-Drink Coffee

Launch Date: 1990
The Not-So-Bright Idea: Create a convenient new way for consumers to enjoy piping hot coffee.

The Lesson Learned: Maxwell House executives assumed that coffee drinkers would find it easier to pour this refrigerated ready-brewed coffee into a mug and then heat it up in a microwave, than to pour an already piping-hot cup of joe direct from the coffeemaker. Consumers begged to differ and refused to buy their product. Ironically, this ready-brewed java may have been a wild success if only Maxwell House had marketed it specifically for people who enjoy their coffee cold, but hate having it diluted by melting ice.

It all seems so obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it?

43 comments to What Were They Thinking? 10 Grocery Product Ideas That Flopped

  • When my son was a baby, I used to take jars of baby food (bananas and some kind of fruit medley) to my college classes for a quick snack. Yes, people looked at me like I was insane, but they were 20 cents a jar at the time and much more filling than anything on campus!

    My son LOVED blue ketchup. I’m glad he didn’t wander in here while I was reading – he’d probably get all excited thinking Heinz brought it back. :D

    • Len Penzo

      I love Gerber applesauce and their mushed bananas too, Andrea. I wish I would have thought of using them as a quick inexpensive snack when I was in college!

      I don’t think I could get my head around eating blue, green or purple ketchup. The brain plays funny tricks when mismatching colors of food — if I see off-color edibles of any kind, I’m hard-wired to reject it!

  • Food can be tricky. I recall some kids who were really excited after being read, “Green Eggs and Ham” and wanted green eggs and ham for breakfast. So Mom went shopping, and that Saturday morning she dutifully added blue food coloring to the scrambled eggs, turning them a nice bright green. When her kids saw the green eggs and ham on their plates, they refused to eat the eggs because they were green! Mom ate a lot of green eggs that morning.

    • Len Penzo

      I did the green eggs thing as a kid, too, DC. Even though they tasted fine, I couldn’t eat ‘em all after I made them. (Like I said, I’m hard-wired to reject off-color food.)

  • Interesting. Most of these seem to be good ideas that failed (except the chocolate sausage pancakes, those are dumb). That Colgate logo on a TV dinner box isn’t very appetizing either.

    • Len Penzo

      My Top 3 worst ideas are, in reverse order:

      3. EZ Squirt Ketchup (although it worked for awhile)
      2. Baby food for adults
      1. Colgate dinner entrees. (the dichotomy of the toothpaste tie-in with food is completely unappetizing to me.)

  • Most of these seem to share a description I think coined by Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma). They’re not food, but “food-like substances.” Ick.

    • Len Penzo

      I know. Especially the microwaved pancake/sausage on a stick. Disgusting. I’m picturing hot rubbery flapjacks enveloping greasy rubbery sausage. No thanks.

  • Amber

    Our Sunday paper just had a coupon this week for a $1 off a new cold pre-mixed coffee product, which does indeed seem to be targeted at iced coffee drinkers. The container is the same type as the Maxwell house pictured, so maybe it was just far ahead of its time.

    • Len Penzo

      Either that, or the Maxwell House marketing department should have done a bit more research into their product!

  • Pepsi A.M. I think was a flop because of timing. I think if they re-introduced it in 2012 it could be a hit because of the recent rise of energy drinks.

  • I wonder what the cost was for the coffee? If it was economical enough, the ice coffee idea was great!

  • I remember pancakes and sausage and colored ketchup. The ketchup was really gritty and gross.

    • Len Penzo

      That’s disgusting. It makes me wonder how in the heck did colored ketchup ever become popular early on.

      • Jessica

        didn’t green ketchup have something originally to do with a movie like hulk or shrek? Not sure but I did eat some and always thought it tasted weird but like you I think it was just my brain saying green can’t taste like red.

  • One of the ones I remember as being a huge flop was Crystal Pepsi. They spent a TON of money trying to get the public on board with that, but in the end, consumers decided that cola just isn’t a ‘clear’ beverage.

  • Sue

    I can see a good reason for those large jars of pureed food in what don’t seem to be baby type flavors. When I was a child my grandmother had 9/10ths of her stomach removed due to cancer. My mother fed her baby food as it was easier for her to digest, and i bet she would have liked Mediterranean Vegetables or Beef Burgundy better than the non-spiced bland stuff you could get back than.

    • Len Penzo

      You have a point, Sue. There are always niche markets out there to be satisfied — the trick is to make sure they are not too niche.

      I dunno. Maybe if Gerber had put the food in cans and used an alternative name to disassociate from baby food, it would have worked.

  • Spedie

    I remember the WOW chips and also the change to the new Coke recipe. I didn’t have any digestive problems with the WOW chips but was concerned about the reports.

    I like classic Coke over Pepsi and would not try the new Coke.

    I did not buy much of the WOW chips. I bought nothing of the new Coke recipe. How could they change an American icon like Coke?

    I do not remember any of the other products.

  • I never understood the different colored ketchup and I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did. They just didn’t look very appetizing. I remember being at a friend’s BBQ and he gave his son a hot dog with green ketchup. We all had a good laugh when his son shouted, “Ewww…my hot dog has boogers on it!”

  • Jambalaya

    For every product that flopped, there are plenty of products that need to be brought back, like:

    Hydrox cookies (much better than Oreos, and invented before Oreos, too).

    PB Crisps

    Pizza Hut’s Priazzo pizza

    Le Menu tv dinners

    And similar tasty stuff.

    • Len Penzo

      True. Very very true; I fondly remember all of them.

      I loved Hydrox cookies, by the way. Looks like I have my next article topic, Jambalaya! Thank you. :-)

      Coming soon…

  • You forgot to add those chips in those “green” horribly loud crackling bags. The bags were out for like a month and they totally went back to regular polluting bags. The things were the loudest most annoying bags on earth. good riddance.

  • I heard that after the Colgate dinner flop, Massengil quickly canceled plans for a launch of a milkshake in a can product. Probably just a rumor.

  • Kendra

    WOW chips aren’t gone, they just have a new name. They are now known as Lays Light chips in a blue bag. They still have Olestra in them and they still contain a warning (I think…)

  • Pancakes on a stick may have faded away, but guess what you can still buy? Frozen PB&J sandwiches. Yeah, seriously. Just stick them in the microwave for a few minutes, and voila — you’ve just spared yourself the trouble of actually MAKING a PB&J sandwich. Yeech. How disgusting.

    • Scott Worthington

      Pancakes on a stick are not gone. Jimmy Dean and others still make the pancake wrapped sausage link on a stick. It’s like a breakfast corn dog. I’ve never eaten one, but they are definitely in my grocer’s freezer. It’s a southern thing.

  • somar

    What about that bright color popcorn from the early 90′s? I remember my sister and I eating that!

    I want to say it was called Pop QUIZ pop corn?
    It had the kids on the commercial , opening mulitple bags of diff color popcorn.

    I think they took it off the market because it was cancer causing ? Crazy stuff!

  • Guy Roberts

    I remember the coke formula change, I tried the new coke and liked it, then they went to the classic coke, to me it did not taste the same as the original coke, I think it was a ploy, so they could change it and get people to go along with it, thinking it was the original formula, sounds pretty slick to me.

  • When the kids were young we bought the colored Ketchup a few times. On one occasion we were out of the regular red variety and my wife made meatloaf with purple ketchup on top. Nasty is far too nice a word to describe it.

  • Jason

    The Coke case show that marketing is just a mixture of science and art.

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